Judge Piazza preserves legislative pork barreling ruse | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Judge Piazza preserves legislative pork barreling ruse

Posted By on Wed, Nov 2, 2016 at 7:34 AM

Circuit Judge Chris Piazza delivered a windfall to pork barreling legislators Tuesday by dismissing the lawsuit by Mike Wilson of Jacksonville attacking the money laundering machine legislators set up to get around the constitutional prohibition against spending on local projects. John Lynch reports on yesterday's hearing in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Wilson, a former legislator, successfully sued years ago  to strike down the old practice of divvying up surplus money among legislators in agreed legislation passing out subsidies to county fairs, rodeos, civic clubs and the like.

In its place, the legislature came up with a system that funnels the money through the state's planning and development districts. It is styled as economic development funding, nominally a statewide purpose. Nobody really disputes that the money is then largely spent as directed by the controlling legislators, who often have pictures taken passing out the checks to the recipients they designated.

Few would argue that these are anything but local projects: some athletic apparel for a local high school and a fireworks show have been among the "economic development" projects funded through this sham process.

The lawsuit challenged only the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District, but a decision would have implications for all of them. Piazza decided that the laws establishing these agencies were constitutional and it wasn't up to him to look at local decisions on how the money was spent.

Katy bar the door. Sam Jones, lawyer for the planning district, defended the money laundering by saying Wilson had unfairly "cherry picked" projects to make the spending look bad. Of course he did. How else to determine if the money is truly going to economic development work of statewide benefit or is simply local legislative pork barreling.

If the Constitution allows a money laundering to make local spending legal — and Piazza thinks it does — more than wasteful spending lies ahead, but heightened corruption. We've already seen the downside of this process writ large.

Legislative auditors found rampant misspending of money by the Northwest Arkansas Planning and Development District, including payment of a bad debt to a Missouri wholesale grocer. Curious, too, was big money spent to a tiny Bible college in Springdale.

Chris Piazza's ruling yesterday offers taxpayers little protection except for the occasional review by legislative auditors. Legislators are vigorous in asserting control of "their" surplus money. See Sen. Keith Ingram's bullying of his local planning district.

I don't know if Mike Wilson plans an appeal. Given the state Supreme Court's recent signals of heightened deference to the legislature, it's probably a long shot.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has tried to push toward more statewide use of surplus money, when it exists. Obligations to highway spending and his desire for a tax cut, no matter the cost to services, ought to restrict the flow of pork. If schools and health services to the poor must suffer, perhaps high schools will just have to buy their own warmups and not expect a state grant from a local legislator.

Tags: , , , , ,

From the ArkTimes store


Comments (6)

Showing 1-6 of 6

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-6 of 6

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Bipartisan deal to continue subsidies Trump ended. But ...

    Everyone's reporting that Sens. Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander have struck a bipartisan deal on to continue federal subsidies for health coverage that Donald Trump cut off.
    • Oct 17, 2017
  • Tuesday: Open line, news roundup

    The open line, plus the day's news roundup.
    • Oct 17, 2017
  • James Lee Witt corrects Trump on grade for Puerto Rico relief effort

    Donald Trump twice yesterday used James Lee Witt, Bill Clinton's widely hailed FEMA director and now in the private business of assisting in disasters, as a reference on the work he's done responding to hurricanes this year. Media, particularly on the conservative end, have echoed the Trump remarks.But hold on: Witt wasn't talking about Puerto Rico.
    • Oct 17, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Auditor Lea caught not telling the truth

    State Auditor Andrea Lea, who began her tenure in statewide office with a degree of competence unseen in some other Republican counterparts (think Treasurer Dennis Milligan particularly), is becoming more deeply mired in a political scandal.
    • Mar 4, 2016
  • Another Republican miracle-working governor

    Great piece in Washington Post on the budget crisis in Louisiana. Big tax cuts and corporate welfare will do that to a state, particularly to a state whose previous governor, Republican Bobby Jindal, refused to join the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion. There's a lesson there for Arkansas.
    • Mar 4, 2016
  • Judge Griffen: Why black lives matter

    Another few words from Judge Wendell Griffen growing from the controversy over the sale of Black Lives Matter T-shirts at the state black history museum — removed by the administration and restored after protests from Griffen and others stirred by a story in the Arkansas Times:
    • Mar 13, 2016

Most Shared

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Tuesday: Open line, news roundup

    • As I remember and I could be misremembering, that the ICE raids usually took place…

    • on October 17, 2017
  • Re: Tuesday: Open line, news roundup

    • OMG--could he be any more insensitive? Trump told soldier's widow 'he knew what he signed…

    • on October 17, 2017
  • Re: The Medicaid charade explained

    • How I Got My Desired Loan Amount From A Reliable Loan Company. My name is…

    • on October 17, 2017



© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation